Best European Cities for a Christmas vacation
It’s always a good time for a trip to Europe, but the holiday season is a particularly special time to visit. All across the continent, our favourite cities are illuminated by twinkling lights, filled with the scents of seasonal treats and transformed by magical Christmas markets.
Every European country has its own holiday traditions, but many of them are just familiar enough to make you feel right at home. Visiting during the holidays also gives you an authentic glimpse of what makes each place special, and a chance to see how the locals celebrate. It’s the perfect combination of new cultural experiences and nostalgic comfort.
From snowy escapes and ice skating to spectacular decorations and shopping, these are the best places in Europe to spend your Christmas vacation.
1. Meet Father Christmas in Finnish Lapland
If you’re travelling with children, nothing beats the experience of getting to meet the ‘real’ Father Christmas in a place that’s about as close as you can get to the North Pole. Finnish Lapland is a wondrous destination, especially during the winter months when it’s cloaked in darkness almost all day. Here you can see reindeer, ride a dog sled, go ice fishing and marvel at the Northern Lights. We especially love the towns of Rovaniemi and Saariselkä.
2. Enjoy Legendary Christmas Markets in Vienna
Regardless of the time of year, it’s hard not to fall in love with Vienna – but in wintertime the Austrian capital becomes even more enchanting. Starting in November, breathtaking Christmas markets pop up throughout the city. You can wander through picturesque squares, sipping mulled wine and tasting traditional sweets as you admire the intricate decorations. There are also endless attractions for kids of all ages, from festive activities to arts and crafts.
3. Step Straight into a Fairytale in Bruges
The lovely Belgian city of Bruges is known for its quaint cobblestone streets and distinctive medieval architecture. Come Christmastime, the buildings are draped in sparkling lights that reflect in the calm waters of its canals, creating an atmosphere that feels straight out of a storybook. Here you can explore some of the best Christmas markets in Europe, sampling local specialties like waffles, chocolates, chips and authentic Belgian beer along the way.
4. Ring in the New Year in Edinburgh
Edinburgh may be most popular in the summer, but it also comes alive in the colder months. The city’s ancient streets and neoclassical avenues are taken over by markets and strung with festive lights, turning this cultural hotspot into a glittering getaway. The Scottish New Year, or Hogmanay, might just be the star of the show, attracting thousands of revelers to celebrate amongst its stately monuments and winding alleyways.
5. Celebrate Spanish Christmas Traditions in Valencia
The Mediterranean coast might not seem like your traditional winter wonderland, but Valencia certainly knows how to put on a good Christmas party. This Spanish city is a fantastic place to spend the holidays, with relatively mild weather and an abundance of attractions for all ages. Here you can enjoy elaborate nativity scenes and Christmas trees, stroll through festive fairs and markets, sample indulgent seasonal sweets like buñuelos and even go ice skating.
6. Shop for Everyone on Your List in Milan
The fashion capital of Italy is also one of the best places in Europe for a Christmas vacation – especially if you’re hoping to find the perfect gifts. Here you can browse the stalls of the picturesque Piazza Duomo Christmas Market – among many others – or head to the city’s famous shops and designer boutiques. And of course you can’t visit Milan in December without sampling some authentic panettone.
7. Explore the Winter Wonderland of Reykjavik
Spending the colder months way up north in Iceland might seem intimidating, but it’s a one-of-a-kind experience that’s well worth the journey. The Christmas season lasts for almost a whole month here, from 11 December to 6 January. And although this is the darkest time of the year, Reykjavik glitters with beautiful lights. It’s the perfect place to bundle up and soak in the season, while learning about the country’s unique holiday customs.
8. Get Cosy in Copenhagen
You might have heard the Danish term hygge, which refers to a state of warm and cosy contentment. This is the perfect word to describe Christmas in Copenhagen, with its snow-covered cottages and cobbled streets. In wintertime the gardens and merry-go-rounds of the Tivoli amusement park are adorned with sparkling fairy lights, and seasonal markets inundate the streets. We highly suggest curling up with a coffee and a Danish pastry.
9. Have the Classic Christmas Experience in London
London is a classic holiday destination, with endless attractions and world-class decorations that would take weeks to fully enjoy. Here you can see the massive Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, which is an annual gift from Norway – a tradition that started during WWII. You can also attend a midnight mass at Westminster Abbey, or visit Hogwarts in the Snow to see the original Harry Potter studio sets decked out for the holidays.
10. Spend a Postcard-Worthy Christmas in Paris
What better place to spend Christmas than the City of Light? Paris is always a good idea, and it’s an even better one during the holiday season. Its charming streets and gardens host countless Christmas markets, and its intricate architecture becomes even more enthralling when covered in shimmering lights. Here you can go ice skating in front of the Eiffel Tower, and indulge in some of the world’s most renowned cuisine for Christmas dinner.
11. Discover the Magic of Munich
Germany is where the concept of the Christmas market originated, so it’s no wonder that this is an ideal place to spend the season. Munich is particularly beautiful in winter, known for its spectacular decorations and infinite activities. You can go ice skating on a frozen river if the temperature drops low enough, and take a ride on a special Christmas-themed tram. Make sure to taste some traditional Bavarian fare, which is the definition of comfort food.